Nikola Pekovic out 7-10 days with bursitis

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Nikola Pekovic getting an MRI is a nerve-wracking bit of news, and according to the Wolves PR team, the results weren’t great. Not as bad as they could have been, but not as good either.

From the Timberwolves PR Twitter account:

“The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced that Nikola Pekovic underwent an MRI…that revealed bursitis in his right ankle. Pekovic will be withheld from basketball activities for 7-10 days and will be reevaluated at that time. He will be sidelined indefinitely.

This is both bad news and good news, and we’ll start with the bad because everyone likes a happy ending. Er…you know what I mean.

The bad news is that Minnesota doesn’t have a whole lot of breathing room. Continue reading

Kevin Garnett: Celtics Reception Was “Bigger Than Minnesota”

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This is bigger than Minnesota, even when I went back to Minnesota. Minnesota wasn’t like this.

-Kevin Garnett on his reception returning to Boston.

Earlier this season at the Target Center, Kevin Garnett received a tribute video from the Timberwolves — a nice little montage of moments documenting his career. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and Garnett stood and waived his thanks. It was a nice moment, but it didn’t feel quite right — like an old boxer returning to his gym years later when fans no longer remember him. KG is respected, mostly from the old-timers who remember what it was like when he prowled the Target Center floors. The younger fans weren’t totally sure why this man who hacked Kevin Love hard enough to draw a flagrant foul later in the contest was being lauded. “That’s Kevin Garnett,” the man sitting behind me said to his son. “He’s the greatest player in Timberwolves history.”

“Then why isn’t he a Timberwolf anymore?” the kid asked.

The first quote you see above was from Sunday night, which contrasted almost directly to Garnett’s Minnesota welcome. Garnett had just received a tribute video, a raucous welcome and a heartfelt, noisy thank you from the Boston crowd in the first visit Brooklyn paid to the Celtics since Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded. No one in Boston’s crowd was there to see Jared Sullinger or Jeff Green on Sunday. Everybody was there to say thank you to their departed heroes.

The contrast was blatant, and a large part of it can certainly be explained away by the time between Garnett’s tenures in Minnesota and Boston. The departure was fresh for Celtics fans, six years old for Minnesotans. There is no love lost for Wolves fans, just significantly more time passed.

But there’s more than that at play here. Continue reading

The Winny City: Timberwolves drop Bulls 95-86

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The Timberwolves have never really fared well against the Bulls given the respective arcs of the two franchises. Initially, the Timberwolves were in their expansion phase and the Jordan Bulls were in full-swing. Then, Jordan retired and Garnett reigned freely, and then as he left Minnesota Rose rose to prominence in Chicago. Really, it’s made for a very uneven series in the 25 years of the matchup’s history. And coming into tonight, the Bulls had swept every series since ’09 against the Timberwolves, including three straight at United Center and seven consecutive overall. Tonight, with the Bulls short Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (Illness), the Timberwolves were in prime position to pounce.

The Timberwolves began the game jumping out to a modest lead by getting out in transition early and racking up all the easy baskets they could get. Then, halfway through the first, Nikola Pekovic went down with a sore achilles and did not return to the game. In his wake, everyone’s favorite player, Ronny Turiaf, stepped in and gave the team a much-needed boost.

Turiaf played well with the team’s backup point guards in the pick n’ roll and getting easy lobs off of those plays. When Turiaf wasn’t scrapping for points on offense, he was bringing the swat to the defensive end, too. Turiaf finished with a season high 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and was an absolute difference maker. Thanks to Turiaf, the Timberwolves were able to coast into the second half with the lead.

While the Timberwolves never really had their lead in question, the Bulls were not going to back down that easy. Especially not a Tom Thibodeau coached team. Chicago came out, grabbed a few points off of turnovers and made Minnesota uncomfortable enough to call a quick timeout. Still, the Bulls’ offense proved to be too anemic despite the Timberwolves own offensive struggles and still led going into the fourth quarter, 72-65.

By this point, it had become clear that the Timberwolves were going to need a bit of a push to not let the Bulls hang around. Well, that sort of worked out, thanks to more steady bench contributions from Turiaf, but also Chase Budinger who finished with 12 points. The Bulls pulled close late in the game behind a DJ Augustin three, but Kevin Love would answer it on the  other end with a layup off of a Rubio pass and that seemed to seal it. Actually, no. The true dagger was when Rubio came down with the defensive rebound and flipped it to Brewer streaking towards the basket and screamed, “FATALITY” (citation needed) as he emphatically dunked the ball.

Because Thibs, you continue fouling when it’s a 3-4 possession game and under a minute left, the Bulls gave the Timberwolves several freebies on the night, in part because they insisted on continuously sending Love to the line who finished 14-14 on the night. Love may have struggled with his three ball, but made up for it with his perfection from the line. Love also finished with just eight rebounds, begging the question: did he accidentally sip out of Noah’s Gatorade cup during pregame?

So, the Timberwolves break yet another streak, this time to the Bulls. Perhaps more importantly they take three of four on the road and head into a much easier portion of their schedule. In a way, tonight also had to be good for their finishing abilities in late game situations. The Bulls may have been shorthanded, but this was still a road game in a building they hadn’t performed well in and never let them back in the game. Even when Chicago would make a run, they would calmly push back the charge and continue to play their game.

Love finished with 31 points and eight rebounds and JJ Barea led the team with seven assists. Rubio played a nice, even game, finished with 9-6-4 on the night. Carlos Boozer led the way for Chicago with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler (!) and Augustin finished with 16 and 19 points, respectively.

Shorthanded team or not, the Timberwolves needed this to carry over some positive momentum into this upcoming lighter portion of their schedule. It wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed win for them, but they certainly went out and got it even when things got tough.

The handy, dandy 2nd unit; Wolves lose 115-104

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Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup
Love vs. Aldridge is always an entertaining matchup

I have to believe that there are just about two ways to make a team great in the NBA; 1) Just sign superstars and ride their tag-teaming ways all the way to the playoffs, or; 2) Sport one of the deepest benches, full of more-than-capable players that the coach can lean on even in the waning moments of a clutch win.

After watching last night’s game against the Blazers, it’s clear to see that the Wolves don’t really have either of those above. Kevin Love is a superstar but he’s a little lonely on that front. But then again, the rest of the starting lineup can play pretty great in spurts, making them look like a playoff caliber team. But then the first quarter ends or we’re midway through the third and Adelman motions his hand for (ugh) JJ Barea to come.

The clear difference in this game was the play of the two teams’ bench players. As preface, you should know that the Wolves’ bench is 27th in scoring, 29th in field goal percentage and dead last in overall efficiency on the court. It’s as if their scoop dirt dirt back into the hole that the starters began, looking for paydirt. Last night had an eerily similar trend.

After the first quarter lead, the second unit of Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf went out there. All they really had to do was do their best to keep it close while the starters rested. That’s all we really ask. But instead the Blazers took the inferior competition and ran with it to win that quarter by 10. The same thing happened in the fourth, to a lesser degree because Adelman knew it was crunch time and he’d get ripped for keeping Barea and Co. out there any longer than he should’ve.

The bench is a serious Kryptonite to the starters’ armor. And on the otherside of the court, it was completely the opposite. Barea couldn’t contain Mo Williams to save his marriage (Wouldn’t that be sad?!). And Thomas Robinson made Dante Cunningham look like he was ready to quit. Those two combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. I think Adelman would kill to get that out of his entire bench on any given night.

I don’t wanna take credit away from the Blazers by blaming this loss on the Wolves’ putrid bench but it had a big part in it for sure. The Blazers are for real, though. Their early season success isn’t a fluke. LaMarcus Aldridge should be an All-Star. Robin Lopez plays the perfect sidekick to Aldridge in the paint on both ends. And I wouldn’t trade Damian Lillard for Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook or even Derrick Rose. He’s that good, folks. They’re a team built to do really well in the playoffs I think too, and play in a terrific city that loves their basketball with all their heart.

As for the Wolves, it wasn’t a good loss but they certainly learned the standard of which a playoff-like team plays at game in and game out. In order to become one themselves, they have some things to figure out and hope that the bench can finally get their heads in order and play a little more consistently each and every night. Until then, you can’t just keep hoping the starters combine for 90 to keep them close.

Wolves should actually feel okay about getting a split in the Northwest trip, holding onto that big win in Golden State. Next up are the Bulls on Monday night. See you then.

Streak Breakers: Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

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Being 0-11 in close games requires some bad breaks, and Minnesota has been breaking worse than Walter White all season. The Wolves have had to watch unlikely shots fall, bad calls go against them and a variety of other unforeseen circumstances while compiling a close-game record that has threatened to derail their playoff hopes.

The luck may have changed last night, at least for one game. The Wolves got two big breaks in last night’s 121-120 win in Golden State that prevented them from falling to 0-12 in games decided by four points or less.

The first was a defensive mistake by Klay Thompson. With just under 15 seconds remaining in the fourth, Kevin Martin and Kevin Love played a two-man game — Martin passed to Kevin Love in the high post and ran past him, using Love as an off-ball screener. Rather than continuing to trail the locked-in Martin, Thompson stuck to Love. Whether he meant to double-team Love or expected David Lee to switch onto Martin, it was a mistake. Martin moved far enough away from Love to get a good look, which he knocked down to give the Wolves the lead.

Minnesota wasn’t quite finished getting lucky yet. The Warriors sent out a small-ball lineup to get the last shot, and Harrison Barnes ran a nice PnR with Steph Curry. Kevin Love helped try to trap Curry, who had time to get Barnes an open look at a jumper. But Barnes’ shot rimmed out, and the Wolves broke a very long, very over-emphasized streak.

Those two plays encapsulate everything we’ve learned about the Wolves in close games so far this year. Kevins Love and Martin are both quite good at scoring, as is Nikola Pekovic. On many nights, those three can carry the team’s offense. Ricky Rubio can pass the ever-living hell out of the ball, and he’s a solid defender, even if Curry lit him up (because, frankly, Curry lights everyone up).

Did last night feel like a turning point? Sure, absolutely. A close win will always feel like a turning point because of the emotional energy, and it will certainly feel like a turning point because we’ve seen a string of such losses. And in this case, it might actually be the start of things turning around, but it likely won’t be because the Wolves had an attitude adjustment or learned how to win close games, at least not entirely. It also will likely be because at some point, in close games decided in part by uncontrollable circumstances, a regression (or a progression) to the mean has to be expected.

Minnesota has lost some close games because of bad execution. Those are the kind of problems that can be fixed, and a win (with proper late-game execution) is certainly a good way to start turning things around. But given what we’ve seen so far this season, we will need a larger sample size than one game that featured plenty of luck before we can truly feel confident moving forward.

Still, one game is better than zero, and 1-11 feels quite a bit better than 0-12.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Kevin Love and Taco Bell

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I love Taco Bell. And so does Kevin Love. Check him out in this new Taco Bell commercial.

A Brief Respite: Wolves 98, Jazz 72

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Ricky and the Wolves harassed Trey Burke into an off night.

For one night, the Wolves were spared the questions.

Is Ricky Rubio a bust? Is Kevin Love leaving town? Why is the bench so bad? Why is JJ Barea still shooting? Why pick Shabazz? Why trade Trey Burke? For one night, all of the questions were pushed underfoot by a dominant defensive performance as Minnesota held Utah to just 72 points, 23 in the first half, in a 98-72 win at the Target Center.

The turning point, ironically, was a 3-pointer by Rubio. The Wolves were flirting with a double-digit lead when Rubio found himself wide open on the left side of the arc in the second quarter. He eyed the basket and — in typical Rubio fashion — heaved the ball over his head, aimed his arms at the basket and tossed the ball through the hoop.

If that description felt long and overly laborious, it’s because Rubio’s jumper often feels the same way. But when that 3-pointer met nothing but net, the Target Center crowd seemed to cheer as much out of relief as support. Rubio’s shoulders seemed to relax, and his teammates all came over to whack his head and congratulate him. For a brief moment, the Timberwolves looked like an actual team.

Rubio finished with a typically Ricky line: 6 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, but it was his hassling defense (a trait which gets overlooked when critics are ripping apart his shooting) that stood out most. Kevin Love had a fairly quiet evening (and yes, I recognize the absurdity in calling an 18 point, 13 rebound performance “fairly quiet”). But it was Nikola Pekovic, arguably the building block of this team but we’ll get to that later this week, who had the biggest evening. He was downright disrespectful to Utah’s big frontline, putting up 27 points and pulling down 14 rebounds in the win. His hook shot is a combination of power and finesse — a few powerful bumps to knock opponents onto their heels, a swift turn and a stealthy flip shot held away from his body to keep it from being blocked.

Meanwhile, that rookie point guard the Wolves drafted and dealt? He has had better games in the NBA. Burke finished 2-for-10 from the field and was fairly ineffective as a floor general, tallying two assists and three turnovers. Burke will no doubt be a fine NBA point guard, but before we lament Minnesota’s inevitable demise due to the Trey Burke curse, we should probably be aware that the Timberwolves’ own point guard essentially stopped him cold.

The Wolves have another shot at Utah before the schedule stiffens up again. Back-to-backs against the same team are extremely hard to sweep, and the Jazz have a surprisingly good fanbase at home.

But that’s in the future. On Saturday, the Wolves played well and bought themselves a tiny bit of time and breathing room.

For one night.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Wolves Weekend Recap

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It's like day and night
It’s like day and night

There’s the theme for this weekend’s games. P.S. I went with the upbeat version of it to sorta brighten your mood while reading on. Because that’s about as satisfying and happy as I can get.

We’ll start with Friday night’s bout against the Raptors. I’m not sure what it is about Toronto that the Timberwolves just don’t like but they’ve historically never played well north of the U.S. border. And that’s really saying something. The Raptors haven’t been a real competitive team since a few years with Bosh and then the McGrady/Vinsanity years. But this team has developed into a tough squad this year, and that’s saying something after trading away their “best player” in Rudy Gay earlier this season.

Kyle Lowry is legit. Demar Derozan could very well be a bonafide all-star. And Jonas Valanciunas is a pretty big hassle to handle down low on both ends of the court. Even with those three, though, the Raptors are more than beatable on any given night. But that’s just not in the cards for the Wolves. Like ever.

Dating back to the end of the KG era, the Wolves are just 1-17 against the Raptors, including some of the biggest deficits in Toronto itself. All I have to say is history saw this loss coming from a mile away and I think the Wolves themselves did too.

Before this loss, the Wolves were on a 1-3 streak and playing some of the most unenthused, depressing basketball we’ve seen them play all season long. Take that attitude into Toronto and you get what you deserved, a 94-89 loss to a team that, well plays like they actually like each other.

As for last night’s win back home over the Utah Jazz, I’m not so sure how to analyze it, honestly. Watching the game and checking the numbers afterward speak for itself; it was an old-fashioned ass-whooping in every sense of the term. But for a team that should be doing this to bad teams pretty much nine out of ten games all season long, it wasn’t all that impressive.

The Wolves rode Nikola Pekovic’s (the most stable, consistent player on the roster this entire month) hot hand to a big 98-72 win in Minneapolis. Contributing greatly was Kevin Martin, who’s greatly struggled the past few games. He added 20 points, despite still stumbling to put up point from the perimeter. He was just 1-6 from three-point land. Then there was Kevin Love, who 18-13-5 in a good night. Also worth mentioning was Alexey Shved, who added 10 points off the bench.

Other than the starters and Shved, the Wolves didn’t do anything. In fact, if you add up the minutes as well as the plus/minus numbers, the starters combined for plus-157 in 136 minutes played. As for the bench, they posted a minus-27 in 105 minutes of court time. Now I know how to explain the bench players: they just downright suck and have almost all season long. They never play as a unit, rather just rogue chickens with their heads cut off. Other than the occasional one bright spot (Last night being Shved), they continually fail to produce. As for the starters, well, this is close to what they should accomplish on any given night. I mean, they’re that good. There’s no denying Love and Pekovic’s talent, and then Martin’s ability to supplement their game with points from the perimeter. But was last night’s impressive numbers a result of that unit playing well together for once or the lack of balance and power the Jazz, without Gordon Hayward, could sustain?

Given where the Wolves are at mentally right now, these kinds of blowout wins are helpful for their psyche. But I can’t be the only one seeing how lame and limp the Wolves are playing ball as of late. It’s a contagious attitude that’s sprinkled down to all the players and most of the fans to boot. But if you really think about it, if you really think winning can cure all, is beating one of the NBA’s absolute worst teams, playing without their best player, mind you, really a part of the remedy? It shouldn’t. It’s pretty much false hope in my mind.

The only way to get off the schneid is to string together a few of these games in a row. That could be a trying task, considering the next few games include trips to Golden State, Portland and then Chicago. But taking two out of three on that road trip would certainly build a foundation for how to win — and ultimately play — like a playoff-caliber team.

Things Are Lacking: Kings 111, Timberwolves 108

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iThe Sacramento Kings seem like they want to make the playoffs, which — you know — good for them and stuff, but they are 7.5 games back from Dallas for the 8th seed and 13th in the Western Conference, which is a lot of ground to make up and a lot of teams to pass at this point.

One of those teams is the Timberwolves, who actually realistically expected to make the postseason this year. But the Wolves are 18-20 now, two games under .500 and beginning to tire from how long they’ve been treading water. It showed on Wednesday, as the expectation-less Kings bounded around the court dunking and raining jumpers while the Wolves plodded from end to end, looking disheartened. They made a small push at the end of the game spurred by a pair of enormous 3-pointers by Kevin Love, but it wasn’t enough as Sacramento put them away 111-108.

“I keep saying we’re better than our record indicates but until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we’re supposed to beat, we won’t go anywhere,” Kevin Love said after the game. “We definitely need to start winning.”

They certainly do, because that easy month of January that was supposed to save the Wolves is slipping away rather quickly. Yesterday marked the halfway point of the month, and the Wolves could have set themselves up to move over .500. Instead, Minnesota is two games below with a trip to Toronto — where the Raptors have been rolling lately — coming on Friday. After that, they have a home-and-home with Utah, and although Utah is a bad team, it’s very difficult to win both ends of back-to-back contests with the same team. Then? Golden State, Portland, Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis to close out the month. None of that is going to be easy.

If you are sick of the constant playoff talk, I don’t really blame you, and I’ll move on now. Four Kings killed the Wolves in particular — Rudy Gay with 33 points on 19 shots, DeMarcus Cousins with 20 points and a defensive effort we wouldn’t have expected last year, Isaiah Thomas with 26 points and seven assists and (here’s the painful one) Derrick Williams with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. For those of you keeping track, that’s 85 points between four players on 65 shots.

Everyone of those names jumps off the page. Rudy Gay’s line was supremely efficient (although, to be honest, his shot selection was pretty typically Rudy Gay). DMC has been trying on defense for much of the year, which has been refreshing until it’s against a team you follow because then it’s cause for “Where in the world did this come from and when did he start playing help defense?” discussions. Isaiah Thomas may have actually done the most damage to the Wolves — the way he split PnR defense and performed his drive-and-kicks was destructive.

And then, of course, there’s D-Will, who played angry, engaged and efficient which is just the worst thing he could have possibly done for T-Wolves morale. Meanwhile, his trade counterpart, Luc Ricard Mbah a Moute, didn’t see the court despite Gay’s offensive explosion and LRMAM’s familiarity with Gay’s game.

I haven’t even mentioned Minnesota’s offensive game, mostly because you already know what happened if you’ve been following the Wolves this year. Kevin Love put up a solid line. Pekovic bruised down low. Rubio didn’t shoot very much or very well and everyone in Minnesota blew a gasket in their haste to put tonight’s loss on his shoulders.

That’s not fair, though. Rubio didn’t play well, but he wasn’t the reason Minnesota lost — that distinction seemed to belong to the Wolves’ first-half apathy and the way they accepted that not one, not two, not three but four Sacramento scorers were going to have big games. Rubio is a point guard, not a miracle worker. He is certainly flawed, but he’s not the only flawed member of this team, and all of the flaws worked together in perfect harmony to capsize Minnesota.

If the Wolves could only work together as well as their flaws do, we might have something here. As it stands right now, it’s not panic time but you can certainly see it from here.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

BREAKING: Kevin Love considering red or green shirt at the mall.

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Disclaimer: Howlin T-wolf does not endorse any laundry products and products mentioned below should not be interpreted as such. The author is in no way shape or form compensated by big laundry and usually buys whatever is on sale.

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love has been wearing a blue shirt for the past six years. When Love first received the shirt it was a bit big as a 19-year old baby face and grew into it with each passing year. For years some have speculated that he’s wanted a different colored shirt, yet Love has remained insistent in his loyalty towards his blue shirt.

There were some reasons to question his loyalty to his blue shirt. His friends had newer, shinier shirts that were different colors and some speculated that he may also want a new shirt in a different shade. After all, the people that had originally been taking care of his shirt had not been kind to it. They didn’t believe in fabric softeners and would wash it in warm water, despite Love’s assertion that the tag said “cold water only.” I mean, damn, how hard is it to read a flipping tag; if it says cold only, don’t set the dial to warm.

Still, when Love’s shirt contract was up a couple of years ago, he said that he wanted to wear that shirt for the rest of his career, but the launderer had other ideas and didn’t think that was in the best interest of the organization. Upset, Love asked for a shorter deal with a player option, leading some to believe that he was considering other more colorful, bigger shirts to grow in to.

About a year later the owner decided to fire the launderer that caused the star’s displeasure and brought in a few of his friends. All Love wanted was to see a little Downy, some starch and some stain spot remover once in awhile. Under new management, the organization took a proactive approach to making sure Love’s threads were being well-treated.

Now, as the team remains in playoff contention and Love’s garments smell like Oxy Clean just a little more often, “reports” have surfaced that Love is considering new shirts when he goes to the mall when his contract is up in a year and a half. Reportedly, Love has begun to shop via catalog and has identified a red and green shirt as his two favorites. I mean, everyone plans out what they’re going to wear a year and a half before they can make the decision. There’s no way that tastes may change or that the mall will even have a red or a green shirt. Maybe Love really does want a new shirt, but sours on the red and green before deciding on a yellow shirt.

Do we really know? Should we worry about what Love will want to wear in a year and a half? After all, last we heard he still likes his blue shirt, especially since they switched to the liquid detergent over the dry stuff and put it in the dryer instead of air-drying so it becomes too crunchy.

Here’s what we do know: Kevin Love will be wearing a shirt in June 2015. Yet, it might be a little early to know which shirt that will be in January 2014.